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A group of rescued orphaned yellow-eyed penguin chicks appear to ponder their release choices before turning tail back up a privately accessed Otago Peninsula beach yesterday - only for Penguin Place manager Lisa King to gently encourage them to head out to sea.
The eight chicks appeared unsure of their surroundings but eventually all braved the surf, where only their heads occasionally bobbing above the waves could be seen. The release was deemed a success by Ms King, whose staff had been looking after the chicks since they were brought to the Penguin Place ''hospital'' after their parents died in a ''mass mortality'' event on the peninsula.
With the chicks attaining 5.5kg after hand feeding at Penguin Place they were deemed heavy enough to survive in the wild.
''We've done all we can for them. At this point its all up to them. They'll quickly adapt to fending for themselves.''
Staff would check the beach regularly to see if any returned but most were expected to remain at sea and not return until next summer.
Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust general manager Sue Murray said she had ''all her fingers and toes crossed'' that the penguins survived.
It was doubly important they survived given the loss of about 60 adults from the peninsula this season, the cause of which was still unknown.
Penguin Place still had 50 adults and chicks in its hospital, including three snares and a rockhopper. Ten more yellow-eyed penguins would be released next week.